As Wendy Nadeau leads Lisle's Eyes to the Skies festival, in the words of Hank Williams Jr., she's just carrying on an old family tradition.
In the eyes of the Hank in her life -- her grandfather Hank Van Kampen -- she'd be making him proud by honoring his longtime legacy of championing Lisle's parks and people.
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Eyes to the Skies festivalWhen: Friday, June 29, through Sunday, July 1
Where: Lisle Community Park, Short Street and Route 53, Lisle
Cost: $5 adults, free for ages 5 and younger
Info: eyestotheskies.org or (630) 541-6096
As the person in charge of this year's Eyes to the Skies festival -- which runs from Friday through Sunday in Community Park near Route 53 and Short Street in Lisle -- Wendy is channeling her grandparents, the late Hank and Hazel Van Kampen.
It's probably a familiar name to Lisle residents and fest goers. That's Van Kampen -- as in the Van Kampen Memorial Stage in Lisle Community Park, where bands rock out before thousands of happy fest goers each year. And Van Kampen, as in the longtime Lisle Park District president credited with carrying on the balloon festival and giving it the staying power to celebrate three decades of good times.
In its 30th year, the granddaughter of Eyes to the Skies' biggest champion is ready to usher in another year of great fun.
"When I'm planning, sometimes I think, 'Oh, what would my grandpa do? Or what would my grandma do? What would they think about this? What would they say about this?'" Nadeau said. "It's a way to be closer to them. I feel like I'm still honoring them by doing this."
At 36, Nadeau has spent all but six years of her life celebrating Independence Day at Eyes to the Skies with her family.
"I grew up with it, so I guess it's in my blood," she said. "It just became this huge family tradition to be at the fest. The whole family was there, and we didn't see too much of our grandfather. He was off working the fest."
It's a tradition that's meant so much to her that she actually married her husband on the stage that honors her grandparents.
Lisle Park District began Eyes to the Skies in 1982 as a way to mark the village's sesquicentennial. After continuing to grow for almost a decade, the fest almost died when both the park district and Lisle Kiwanis Club determined they could no longer head the celebration because the financial risk was too great.
That's when the Van Kampens rallied to the cause, helping form the Lisle Fourth of July Committee headed by Hank. That committee ran the fest until 2008, when a group of community members formed the Eyes to the Skies Committee.
Both Hank and Hazel have since passed away, but the Van Kampen family has picked up where the couple left off -- carrying on that family tradition.
Nadeau's mother, Daryl Laman, remembers the Fourth of July gatherings her parents would have in their yard before Eyes to the Skies began.
"My dad and mom -- they just loved America and the freedoms, and they really loved living in Lisle," she said. "They grew up in Berwyn and Cicero, and they just liked the small-town feel of Lisle."
Eyes to the Skies eventually became an extension of that backyard party.
In its early days, the Van Kampens used their own camper as the fest's headquarters, and the whole family would make the pilgrimage home to Lisle for what they called their "summer Christmas," gathering at the camper and volunteering as balloon crew members.
Laman recalled their years as crews on the balloons -- most memorably the giant pink Energizer bunny.
"It was huge so our whole family would be on the balloon crew. We had pink T-shirts and pink bunny ears," she said. "When the balloons came down, the kids would roll and roll and roll and roll and help get the air out of the balloons."
Growing up with the festival had its perks. When other people went through their little-bit-country-little-bit-rock-'n'-roll phase, Marie Osmond didn't show up at their family's giant party to perform. Most girl's crushes didn't eventually produce Davy Jones on a stage before them. And most people don't remember watching a young Miley Cyrus perform on stage with her dad Billy Ray when he was more famous than she, back in his "Achy Breaky Heart" heyday.
One year, a giant birthday cake balloon participated in the fest and Hank told Nadeau's then 5-year-old daughter Dominique, now 17, that he threw the entire festival to celebrate her July 6 birthday. Dominique believed him and relished that for more than a year, Nadeau said.
Another time, some cousins had a bumpy landing and their balloon basket tipped sideways and dragged across the ground. The family laughs thinking of the expressions on everyone's face.
"It was just a labor of love -- my dad just wanted to have a big party for Lisle, so he did," Laman said. "But the main thing is that it was for family and not to worry about anything and just have fun for a couple of days and enjoy the park and time with your family. It was just a big family fun time."
Another balloon close to the family's heart is Serena's Song, which gives balloon rides to disabled children and adults.
"When my parents passed away, they put a plaque in the basket of that balloon honoring my parents," Laman said. "That was very special to us."
Although members of the Van Kampen family have had countless opportunities for balloon rides, Wendy has taken after her grandparents and always declined.
"There have been others who have gone up and say it's awesome and there's nothing like it," she said. "I don't. I have a height issue."
Laman remembered all the hours Hazel put into organization and never went up either.
"She was in charge of organizing all the balloons and the crews and knowing what was going on and making sure they were taken care of. She knew all these people and she would not get in a balloon," Laman said. "They both just loved doing the fest. My dad may have done it once, but he would never leave the fest for very long. My mom totally refused."
In addition to Nadeau and her grandparents, her entire family -- which starts with 25 blood relatives -- have taken turns helping out. Nadeau's cousin designed the current Eyes to the Skies website. Uncles have taken turns on the committee.
As many awesome memories as the Van Kampen family has stockpiled, Laman said she hopes other families in Lisle can say the same.
Festival attractions have come and gone over the years -- like the Lima Lima flyover, trick kites and lawn mower races, and even Patty's Malt Shop, where the Van Kampen ladies would meet each year at the conclusion of the fest for ice cream.
But the Van Kampen family has remained steadfast in its support of Eyes to the Skies.
"It's definitely very meaningful for our family and I sure hope that lots of people have good memories and bring their families and have a good time," Laman said.
For information on the fest, visit eyestotheskies.org.